Size Versus Breed Type

English-Setter and Tenterfield TerrierEnglish-Setter and Tenterfield Terrier

This article explains why specific height and/or weight limitations within breed standard are so essential and fundamental to correct breed type. When Breed Standards are specific concerning height and/or weight parameters, the size of the dog becomes fundamental to the whole picture of correct breed type. So, it never ceases to amaze me to observe how many breeds drift away from the height and weight parameters dictated to by their respective Breed Standards. Imagine a Chihuahua weighing ten kilos (22 pounds) or a Great Dane standing but 40 cm (16 inches) tall! Ridiculous as that may seem, perhaps we should ask ourselves how big or small each breed can be before the size of a particular dog in itself, interferes with correct breed type[1].

Defining Heights and Weights

Irish SetterIrish Setter

Some standards specify quite definite heights and weights. Others allow a more liberal range. For example, The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Standard allows one Stafford to be one third again as heavy as the next one, yet both are within their Breed Standard. The Labrador Retriever on the other hand, offers a leeway of only 2cm (half an inch) in height for both dogs and bitches. Other standards give a liberal range of 5cm (2 inches) for height in both dogs and bitches, which means 10 cm (4 inches) separates the tallest allowable dog from the smallest allowable bitch. Yet other standards, like the Cairn Terrier, give an ideal weight only and no height. The Irish Setter and Bull Terrier Breed Standards give no specifications at all for either height or weight. How confusing! So it is up to the judge to select correct breed type in respect to other features so the dog can perform the particular job it was intended to do.

'More' is not necessarily 'Better'

Part of Best in Show line-upPart of Best in Show line-up

Why do we then continually get such oversize and sometimes undersized dogs winning? In the quest for longer and longer heads and necks, is it that we are overlooking the subsequent inches and inches the legs are lengthening too? In the quest for more and more bone and substance are we getting dogs so coarse and cloddy they completely lack the refinement and quality the approximate weights in the standard are meant to convey? Or in the case of a breed that is miniaturized sometimes the winning dog is so small and fine it is weak.

So in the quest for soundness of body and or mind, are we forgiving so much so often that whole breeds are no longer resemble the breeds they are supposed to be? Surely a dog over or under the Breed Standard by several inches or pounds is 'off type'. Such a dog may have lovely balance and be perfectly sound. But is it too big or small to portray correct breed type? In other words, is it a true representative of that breed and faithful to the Breed Standard?

The 'Odd Man Out'

Saint Bernard and Tenterfield TerrierSaint Bernard and Tenterfield Terrier

One of our most famous judges, Cam Milward whose Fox Terriers (Smooth) are today legendary, told me the story of the judging of a class of Fox Terriers at an Australian Royal Show many years ago. He said to me,

"One typey beautifully made bitch was completely lost in a class of WACKERS"

(The word 'typey' means displaying correct 'Breed Type' which is explained by following the link).

He continued that as she was the odd man out, in fact the only one in the class which was faithful to the Breed Standard, she was completely overlooked. Her owner/breeder was thoroughly disillusioned and was never seen again, nor was the lovely bitch. He stressed upon me:

"A great pity, as they could have really contributed to that breed. A well-made animal always looks smaller than it really is. When judging, always keep the correct size as well as the breed standard in mind".

A litter of Bull TerriersA litter of Bull Terriers

So let's look at the one single characteristic of size. Most breeds have actual parameters of height and weight measurements. This means that conscientious breeders should actually measure their breeding stock.  But within a show ring situation it is not practical to measure all breeds. So a judge must develop an eye to judge size to the best of his ability and knowledge. This ability of a judge to judge size can be developed by using some yardstick by which to measure, combined with a learned knowledge of remembering heights and weights as quoted by the Breed Standard.

With breeds where size is critical to breed type, measuring can be used within the show ring situation. For example, it is not uncommon to see a judge using a measure for the different varieties of Poodles to make certain they comply with the height critical to their breed standard. With varieties of Dachshunds which are separated by a weight difference, in some countries the steward weighs the dog before it is judged.

Assessing Correct Size

Norwich Terrier puppyNorwich Terrier puppy

With breeds where an approximate size is used in the Breed Standard, the inexperienced judge should still be able to learn to asses the correct size. If the eye is not sufficient, the span of a hand, the top of a knee-cap or some other yardstick can be used to develop an eye for the correct height for that breed. When assessing approximate weight, some judges lift the dog off the table. Although this might seem like a good idea, I personally feel it is dangerous should the dog struggle and you accidently drop and worse injure it. It is a better idea to practise becoming adept in assessing weight by eye.

The correct size for any particular breed is something that has to be learnt so the correct breed type for that particular breed can then be recognised. Once this has been learnt, other breed characteristics follow suite. Once accustomed to seeing dogs of correct breed type, the natural 'eye for a dog' should develop.

References and Further Reading

[1] Jane Harvey, "Size Versus Breed Type" in National Dog Newspaper (Windsor NSW) Letter of the Month October 1975 Page 2